October 27th 1973.
Dear Bob, Gwen & Shelly,
You will see we also have a postal code! What the hell it means is not quite
understood, but we are given to understand that under the new code system a
letter addressed by code will indicate the exact building for which it is meant.
Postmen think it will do them out of jobs, but that is not necessarily so as no
one will be laid off & it may be found in the end that as in the use of
computers, a computer cannot correct its own mistake. At the start of use of
book-keeping machines & early non-electric computers glaring mistakes
happened. One happened to me. When I retired from the Customs-excise in
1951, civil servants were allowed six months leave after 25 or more years of
service. While I was on this leave a raise was granted Customs officers. The
raise to me was 75 cents (in pension) per month. A cheque was mailed me for the
back pension in the amount of $750.00. It really hurt me to return the cheque
but in the end I did.
Now to deal with your very intriguing letter. Thanks for Uncle Sam's marriage
certificate. I don't know the exact date of Uncle Sam's birth, but can gauge it
roughly. From the enclosed copy of Grandpa Handy's marriage certificate you will
see he was married in 1866. My mother was the eldest of his wife's second
family. She was born in 1867. Sam was the next child so he could not have been
born before 1869 so in 1903 he could not have been older than 34. There is quite
a story about father LaFortune & Sam Handy (uncle) & Harry Hawkins
leaving Vancouver Island in 1893 which I cannot tell about now but may do at
some later date in order not to embarrass Dave Brown or our own family. Actually
Uncle Sam was not born in San Francisco, but at Mill Bay in Shawnigan
Lake-District on Vancouver Island. If Dave is interested he could get his
step-father's birth certificate from the Registrar of Births, Deaths &
Marriages, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, as I am sure his birth would be
Thanks very much for the picture. I would not have recognized father
LaFortune & told Alice so. She took one look at the picture & said "If
you have any doubts just look at the picture of Roy (your brother) when he was
younger.". I had always thought Roy resembled Laura & still think he does
especially from his mouth. When I looked again at the photo I could see a real
resemblance between father & Roy.
The photo of father LaFortune & Uncle Sam I presume was copied from a
tin-type. It must have been taken on Vancouver Island prior to them leaving the
Island for Alberta. Did I say Uncle Sam left with Dad for Alberta, but did not
stay long at Beaverhill. The LaFortune's when they left Cobble Hill (Shawnigan
District at the time) consisted of father, mother, your dad Frank, your Uncle
Fred & a younger brother less than a year old, Uncle Walter & Sam
They first went to Edmonton. Whether Dad first filed on a homestead at Beaver
Lake as it was then known & then went to work in Edmonton as a barkeeper at
the Queens Hotel for Mr. & Mrs. Hetu or the reverse I don't know. The baby
died soon after arrival at Edmonton before I was born. Beaver Lake (then known
as Beaverhill Lake) adjoins Beaver Hills. It is about thirty miles southwest of
Edmonton. I have never been there, but Ed has & has seen the old log cabin
in which he & I were born. There used to be a post office at Beaver Lake but
has long since been abolished. Ed says it is near Tolfield. If you look at a
large map of Alberta you will find Beaverhill Lake in the vicinity indicated. In
reading of a history of Alberta the Beaverhills & Beaver Lake were on an old
Indian trail that lead across the prairie of Saskatchewan & Alberta &
ran from there to Lac La Biche & from there to the Peace River (Pouce
As there was later a place in Northern Alberta name Beaver Lake (in the Peace
River) the original Beaver Lake was changed to Beaverhill Lake. The homestead
was on the shores of Beaverhill Lake. Dad told me there were often prairie fires
& the whole family used to take shelter on the shore of Beaver Lake. It is a
fairly large lake, the edges being swampy.
Of course in those days the only means of travel was by covered wagon. With a
whole family to feed (Frank, Fred, me & Ed) the journey could not be done in
one day. Instead of the covered wagon shown in American picture shows our
covered wagon was a large wagon with sides. Inside of which was a regular wedge
(triangular) shaped tent. Inside were beds, a stove, another tent & supplies
& I have a faint recollection we used to take along a cow to feed Ed &
We crossed the Saskatchewan by ferry which used to be where the Low Level
Bridge now is. Have an idea the low-level was built around 1900 or 1901. It was
quite new when we were kids & on the north side close to the bridge were the
remains of the old ferry on the down-river side. On the up-river side there was
for years an old dredge. At that time it was in good order & it seems to me
a family lived on it for awhile. It was later hauled up further & tilted. We
used to get dizzy playing on the sloping deck.
The photo of Uncle Walter must have been taken in Edmonton. When I first went
there or the year after he was a hostler for a cartage company. Had to get up
real early & be at the stable to feed & water the horses, check them for
sores, see that the harness was in good order & such. Think he got all of
$60.00 a month. He had a cabin in 1912 which he built on the old Hudson's Bay
Reserve which was on the north side of the old G.T.P. Tracks. The picture must
have been taken at the back of the cabin. He was quite young at the time. He was
the youngest of the Handy's as far as I know. I do remember he did not like me
to call him "Uncle" in public. Think he was thirty then. I worked at the time at
the old G.T.P. shops at Calder. I stayed with Walter at his cabin. When he got
up - 4 or 5 AM he would cook breakfast for me & leave it on the stove. I did
not get up till about 7 as I started work at the shop office at 8. At the time
it was hard to get office help at Calder as it was then or seemed too far from
Edmonton where most preferred to stay, as then there was not a hotel at Calder
& few took boarders. As a result all office help were carried as Assistant
Mechanics on the pay-roll & we got $75.00 a month which was the most I ever
earned in Canada until after the first war. To get to work the railway Co. gave
us a speeder with a gas engine which ran on the tracks. The speeder used to be
left at a junction not too far from Walter's cabin & a bit west of there.
About five of us used to meet at the junction & ride the speeder to the
office. Had to be alert for trains & we often had to get the speeder of the
tracks to let a train go by.
Walter used to wake me when he left & say he had left the stove full (it
was winter) & choked, but for me to be sure to refill the stove so my
breakfast would be hot. Never did refill the stove with the result the basin of
hot water he left on the stove for me to wash in, the tea or coffee pot, &
the fried ham & eggs & porridge would all be frozen solid by the time I
got up so had to break the ice on the basin & wash & shave in cold water
& eat frozen bacon & eggs. He also left me a lunch pail, but that would
be thawed in the office by lunch time.
Dave Brown was right in saying he & dad (Uncle Sam I mean by he) used to
work together on the railroad, only it was not the Grand Trunk Pacific, but on
the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway which was then being built between Nanaimo
& Victoria. They worked both ends. The last spike was driven at the south
end of Shawnigan Lake, in what year I don't know but in the early 1890's. Dad
had a lifetime pass on the railroad the E.N., built by the Dunsmuir's. He
gave me the pass but I lost it years ago before the first war. He had also given
me some clippings from a paper published in Dawson City. One of them was about
him going on a rescue party as leader to rescue the crew of a boat wrecked off
the coast of Alaska. He must have got around as a prospector. Another article
was about him but did not name him. He had put an ad in the paper that he would
do sufficient work on any claim before getting a crown grant - it did not say
that he had to dig to hard-pan, above which gold was usually found. Dad's scheme
for getting around this was that he would dig several holes on the claim, each
quite shallow, say 6 or 7 feet & the total depth of these holes when added
had to be accepted & a crown grant issued. Think they changed the law after
At one time dad thought he was a millionaire. There was a fast flowing creek
the bottom of which was known to have heavy nuggets, as they were found near the
shores where they could dig in shallow water. His scheme was to dam the creek.
Turned out the creek was too fast of current & could not be dammed at the
time. Later it probably was when heavy equipment came into use.
He also discovered a solid mountain of asbestos. He gave me some samples of
it. They too alas I did not have the sense enough to keep, perhaps because I
never stayed on one job long & had no where to leave things. Have an idea
that the asbestos he found is now being mined by Cassiar Company & is one of
the biggest asbestos producers in the world. In those days the asbestos deposit
was so far from either a river or the coast that it could not be mined or
shipped. Also by that time there was a huge asbestos deposit being mined in
Quebec which filled practically the world requirements.
About Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway, dad hired the first special train to
take mother to the hospital in Victoria when either your dad or Fred was born.
Actually think it was Fred.
Tell Dave Brown that I'm sure I read in one of the Western Canadian Magazines
an article about the murder of his father. If I recall it was close to the
border of B.C. & the state of Washington. Now wish I could recall where the
article appeared & when, but cannot, am almost sure it must have been his
father. It was published as an unsolved mystery & I seem to recall that
Dave's dad had quite a bit of raw gold either in dust or nuggets.
About the Hudson's Bay Reserve where Walter had his cabin. I don't know
whether he rented the land from the H.B.Co. or just squatted. I was in Edmonton
when the reserve was offered to the public on the basis of first come, first
served. Meaning that No.1 in the lineup could choose his own lot. The first
offer was somewhere in Jasper, probably at the old HB store. The lineup started
a couple of days ahead. Some brought chairs & even sleeping bags in order to
keep their place. I got into the lineup & there were more than a hundred
ahead of me. The dodge was that someone with money (Many on the lineup were
there only to sell their place in line.) I had no intention of buying but did
get $50.00 for my place. Forget when that was but it was in either 1911 or 1912.
The first few in line were offered over $1000.00 for their place.
At or when the Hudson's Bay next offered sales of lots on their reserve
(which was a grant to them, a free grant) I was working for a Rev. Arthur
Murphy. He was a Church of England Minister from Ontario. He had given up his
priesthood & was agent for one of the banks in Edmonton. At the time banks
were not permitted, or rather forbidden by law to take mortgages. The banks set
up trust companies under a different name from the bank. Thus the Royal Trust
Company was owned & managed by the Bank of Montreal. Forget for which Trust
Co. Arthur Murphy worked, but this was how it was arranged. A farmer or
homesteader went to his bank for a loan. He was refused, but told if he went to
a certain Trust Co. (owned by the bank) a mortgage could probably be arranged.
Arthur Murphy was agent for a Trust Co. owned by a bank. The bank would refer
certain customers to him & Murphy if he thought the property worth it, would
arrange for a mortgage. A title, or crown grant to a homestead at that time was
worth a minimum of $2000.00 from that up to a maximum of $5000.00 depending on
where the homestead was & whether it was in a district with regular rainfall
& not too late frost so the wheat could be harvested.
Primitive machinery was in great demand & needed, such as a binder,
thresher & such. The Trust Co.'s were really big hearted. They worked two
angles. If a mortgage was granted, the machinery, team cows, or whatever the
homesteader wanted had to be bought from designated parties or machinery firms.
The other angle was if a homestead was worth $2000.00 cash (160 acres) the loan
or mortgage would not be for more than $500.00. There was a clause included on
the mortgage that also surrender underground rights. Even then it was known to
banks & knowledgeable investors that there was oil & gas under many
parts of Alberta especially in the area around Edmonton & even in the
Alberta part of Peace River. Interest rates were high for the time, I think the
lowest being 8%. Added to that in the mortgage agreement, which might run up to
five years or even less, the entire amount of the mortgage had to be paid off at
the end of the term in one sum. Thus if $500.00 was lent, interest had to be paid
quarterly or semi-annually. If interest was not paid on time, the interest became
part of the original amount so interest had to be paid on overdue interest.
Compounded that is.
In many respects this was the best job I ever had, as office hours were from
the time banks opened till banks closed. So my hours were from 10 AM to 3 PM.
Mrs. Murphy came from a rich & political family in Ontario - the Ferguson's.Arthur Murphy had a credit at the bank, relayed through a Trust
Co. of $2,000,000. He got a good commission perhaps as high as 25% of the
mortgage granted. Also through the Ontario Ferguson's he obtained a grant from
the Alberta Govt. (This was after Alberta became a Province in 1905) of fifty
thousand acres of coal land. On this grant he was supposed to pay yearly taxes.
The taxes were small, but every year a special Act would be passed remitting the
taxes he should have paid. His wife was a writer quite renowned in Canada at the
time. She wrote under the name of Janey Canuck. She was the first woman judge
appointed in Canada. She was a judge in Edmonton on the Juvenile Court. A friend
of hers was also a writer living in Calgary. She was Nellie McCloug.
Murphy was good in many ways as he could well afford to. He rented part of
his office to a doctor. McDonald I think his name was. I had no work to do so he
got the doctor to pay part of my salary to answer the Dr.'s phone to. My pay was
$40.00 a month. Partly paid by the Dr. I used to read the Dr.'s medical books in
my spare time of which there was plenty.
As part of this may be unwritten history, Rev. Murphy had been defrocked by
the Church of England because of entanglements with women parishioners, Art
Murphy was one of the finest looking men I ever saw. Not effeminate in any way.
Tall, well built & a massive head of hair which must have grayed in his
early youth. His wife must have loved him. Despite that fact that he was
de-frocked she stayed with him. After his grant or rather he sold $2,000,000 of
mortgages he was let out. He returned to the Church, confessed his errors &
was accepted as a Church of England Clergyman.
When he closed the office I was out of a job. He had so few letters to write,
aside from filling out mortgage forms, which were in most part printed with a
few spaces to fill in such as the amount of the mortgage, date due & such
that I used to put in a great deal of time in writing perfect letters which he
had dictated. Such as perfect spacing, making each line of typing end at the
same space, etc. In the event he thought so much of my typing & devotion to
his work that he took me to a law firm, the most prominent in Edmonton,
Greiswald & O'Connor. Greiswald (not sure of the spelling of his name) was
one of the original first formed North West Mounted Police as was then their
original name. Later a Colonel in the first war & even then he was old. He
& Colonel Steele joined N.W.M.P in Ontario at the same time. Dave will know
of Fort Steele (again not sure of the spelling). To revert to Greiswald &
O'Connor, it was the biggest law firm in Edmonton. Don't remember where their
office was. I was the only male stenographer & at the time not too well
dressed & young. I worked with from 8 to 12 girls, stenos. They were more
experienced in legal phraseology than I was & I was not comfortable in the
presence of so many girls, most of whom were several years older than me. In
those days office help really had to work (aside from Murphy's office). A steno
took dictation fro perhaps one to two hours all in legal terms. I was fairly
good in shorthand, not too good at typing. Did not last long at that job mainly
because I was not so well dressed & the office was so busy no one had time
to talk to the other. After a month I quit because of a feeling of inferiority
complex & not used to working with girls. Strangely I cannot recall &
never even knew the name of any girls who worked there. There must have been
antagonism between the girls & me. Girls wanted jobs for girls & wanted
only males who were bosses, I could not reconcile to working with girls who may
have thought I was doing one or more of them out of a job. At a guess I worked
there only a few weeks perhaps less then a month. What impressed me was I was
the only male steno. The girls were beautifully dressed & ever so
self-confident. Perhaps if I had stayed longer I would have fit in. The girls
were not antagonistic perhaps waiting for me to make the first approach & I
was afraid of women at the time, my only association with women then was with
the women of what was then called of a lower strata in society, such as
waitresses, not that I was not proud of made friends with many, but most were
older than I was.
As your Uncle Ed & I were brought up in a Jesuit School for boys we had
no association with girls or even women. That to you may be rather hard to
understand. At St. Boniface College where we were for five years we did not meet
even one girl until we left there at the respective ages of 14 & 15. I do
not know of Ed's first girlfriend but I will never forget the first female
friend I ever had. She was a waitress at the Queens Hotel when I was 15 or 16.
We both found in conversations that we had gone to school together at Queens
Ave. School in Edmonton. I recalled something of her of which I never told her.
At Queens School classes were formed of both boys & girls. To go to the
outside outhouse children had to indicate to the teacher they wished to leave
the room by interrupting class by putting up one or two fingers, one finger told
we had to pee, two fingers we had to do the opposite or both. Sometimes teachers
would withhold permission. On the occasion in mind my later girlfriend put up
one finger. The teacher refused her permission to leave the room. Soon a trickle
ran from her desk to the front of the class, visible to all. The girl had had to
pee her pants & was ever so embarrassed as who would not be.
You are right in saying your Uncle Fred was a scrapper or fighter. Paul told
the truth when he said Fred would walk into the bar, probably after a few drinks
& offer to fight anyone on the bar. Bars in those days you may or may not
know of. Drinks were served from a counter. The counter could be from 30 to 70
feet long. There was a brass rail at the front bottom of the bar. Drinks had to
be served from the bar - no tables or chairs.
There was usually a small room off the bar or upstairs in the hotel where
gambling was allowed. This was generally restricted to favored customers who
all knew each other - no outsiders allowed. Remember at the Queens there were
two such rooms. One was near the bar & almost anyone allowed to play there.
The one upstairs was restricted to a doctor (I forget his name, but he was the
DR. who came West with the Northwest Mounted Police) real--state men, Mr. Hetu
of course & other merchants & such. There were usually quite a number -
up to 8 or 10. Of course they were served all the drinks they wanted at almost
any hour & their games went on till the early hours. They did not meet too
often, not more than once a week & sometimes every ten days or two weeks.
Stakes ran high & they played for other things besides money.
Drinks at the bar 3 for 25 cents, many took a cigar instead of a drink. The
bottle of your choice was put before you & you poured your own drink. Small
mickies were sold for 25 cents. The cash registers were poor affairs in those
days. When the bar was really busy, the barkeep might not ring up the sale. It
used to be said the barkeeper would throw the quarter of half dollar up to the
ceiling. If the coin stuck, he would ring it up. If it fell he would pocket the
coin. When serving a drunk, he was often short-changed. Sometimes someone would
come in with a roll of several hundred dollars & tell the barkeep not to let
him spend anymore than $50.00. Next morning the drunk would come in & be
told he had demanded the rest of his money & of course as it was his the
barkeeper did not have the right to refuse him. However saying that he (the
barkeep) was a good friend he would give him up to $5.00 out of his own pocket
he said & throw in a two-bit mickie. The customer would think the barkeep a
wonderful friend & do the same thing the next time he was in town.
Of course the Hetu's did not stand for this if they learned of it. Some
barkeepers after a couple of years would buy the owner out & hire the owner
as barkeep then a few years later he would buy our his former barkeep. Then busy
there were often four or five barkeeps on duty.
The picture from you mother was top row Uncle Fred & two of his friends
lower, Frank & me. It must have been taken when I was working at the Queens
in 1911 & was the first time I met them since childhood. Walter was at that
time out of town & did not meet him till later.
Love to all